City measures funding Berkeley school district to be voted on in primaries

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On Super Tuesday, Berkeleyans will be voting on three measures related to funding for the Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD.

Three education-related measures will be on the ballot Tuesday in Berkeley — Measures E, H and G — all of which could have a lasting effect on students, teachers and other BUSD staff. With one measure funded by a bond issue and the other two by parcel taxes, these measures could fund everything from basic maintenance and upkeep to vital safety infrastructure to keeping educators from leaving Berkeley for better-paying districts.

“I think E, G and H together will keep Berkeley on the right path,” said Berkeley PTA Council president Rob Collier. “The extremely unlikely scenario of one or more of them losing would be catastrophic for the district and students.”

Also known as the Berkeley Public Schools Educator Recruitment and Retention Act, Measure E is an effort to keep Berkeley educators, whose compensation falls significantly below the regional average, from leaving BUSD to make more money elsewhere.

In the last two years, more than $3 million has been cut from BUSD’s budget — translating into less money to pay teachers and staff. During the last year alone, BUSD lost 25% of its special education staff and had to begin the current school year with empty positions being filled in by substitute teachers.

“My son’s favorite teacher had to leave King Middle School in Berkeley two years ago because he could not afford to live here,” said Jenny Wong, an auditor for the city of Berkeley, in an email. “We need to prevent these types of situations from taking place by paying teachers a better wage.”

BUSD receives less state funding per student than surrounding districts, and no existing tax can be allocated directly to staff compensation, according to Matt Meyer, president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers.

Measure E proposes a parcel tax — a property tax applied per square foot of a household — of $0.124 per square foot, to fund 7% raises for BUSD staff. This amounts to approximately $186 annually for the average 1,500 square foot house.

Of the revenue collected with the new parcel tax, 95% would go directly to BUSD staff salaries, while the remaining 5% would be used for “recruiting and retaining” educators in hard-to-staff areas.

Measure G, on the other hand, is a bond measure designed to keep the district on pace with ongoing improvement and remodeling projects. It would continue an existing bond program that is responsible for some of the district’s most important upgrades in recent memory.

“The previous two bonds have paid for the seismic upgrade of all student-occupied facilities in the District. Our schools will be among the safest buildings in the city when the next large earthquake hits,” Wong said in the email. “Measure G continues with upgrades to make Berkeley schools seismically safe, sustainable and equipped with the latest educational technology.”

Though past bonds have funded significant upgrades in safety infrastructure, there is more work to be done. According to Ty Alper, vice president of the Berkeley School Board, several campuses are in the middle of renovations, and some facilities need upgrades to security systems, locking mechanisms and fencing.

Measure H is intended to renew a parcel tax of $0.091 per square foot that was originally passed in 2000 to fund ongoing school maintenance throughout the district.

The maintenance tax that the measure would renew currently supplies funding for the entire district’s maintenance department — the loss of which could have substantial implications for BUSD.

“It would be devastating to the District if Measure H did not succeed,” Alper said in the email. “We would need to make drastic cuts to programs and services for students in order to pay for necessary maintenance to the school facilities.”

Jake Souza is the lead city government reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @jsouza_dailycal.